Nice Feature! – Fanvil VoIP phones and ‘paginating’ keys

It’s nice to have a labelled key on your phone that you can press to make a call to another extension in your office, or to an external mobile or land-line. It’s even nicer, if these keys are labelled using a display rather than paper, as they can be changed – quickly and neatly – in line with staff changes, and your contact priorities.

Phone manufacturers are finding ways for us to present a lot of keys to you using ‘pagination‘. Pagination means that the same key & display can have different functions and labels, depending on which ‘page’ or ‘level’ you select. For example, Yealink T41P phones have six programmable keys around the display area of the phone. Key 6 is used to ‘paginate’ through three layers, giving these keys, a total of 5 x 3 = 15 destinations and/or functions. The Yealink T46G does the same 3-layer pagination, with 10 keys (9 x 3 = 27).

VoIP phone manufacturer Fanvil, have taken this a step further with their X4 and X6 phones, providing additional colour LCD displays with six keys, and twelve keys respectively, paginating through up to five layers.

Fanvil X4G

Fanvil X6

The colour LCD at the top of the phone is used to show call info and status, while the smaller display[s] are divided into strips to assign functions to the buttons to the right of the display. A small key beneath is used to paginate without having to sacrifice one of the display keys.

 

These keys are commonly known as ‘Direct Station Select’ – or ‘DSS‘ keys, but can be assigned a lot more functions to either access PBX features, or to call people. When the key is set up as a BLF [Busy Line Field] it has a small LED in the key that glows green, red or red-flashing – to show that the assigned extension is free, busy, or ringing. These keys not only show the status of an extension you may not be able to physically see, but also allow you to one-touch call-transfer to another extension, or even pick-up a ringing call for that phone. With a combination of configured DSS keys, and a central system ‘Phonebook’ – you should never need that paper label or extension & contact list ever again …

A Yealink T46G phone set up as a Reception phone, may have an expansion module connected to it to present up to 57 BLF keys. However, the Fanvil X6 can present up to 60 BLF keys without the need for any added key modules. For a smaller company, the X4’s presentation of up to 30 keys can be more than enough! Fanvil’s extensive feature set, and HD audio – combined with an aggressive pricing policy – makes the X4 and X6 extremely cost effective and powerful business phones to combine with Foxhall’s 3CX and Yeastar IP-PBX solutions.

Contact Foxhall Solutions – 01787 228 402 – to talk about your next phone system …

Securing your VoIP telephone system

Secure-VoIPIs your VoIP phone system secure? Due to recent attacks on prominent IT systems, we are aware that we should protect our; Servers, computers, laptops, smart-phones and tablets. However, if not protected, VoIP phone systems may also be vulnerable to on-line attack that could allow them to be ‘hacked’ and used by somebody else, at your expense!

Hackers use automated tools (bot’s) that cruise the Internet ‘phishing’ for VoIP phone systems that react to queries on SIP communications port 5060. When they find an Internet address that responds, they will bombard that address with other tools designed to look like the registration of a VoIP extension. If an extension or SIP Trunk registration can be hacked, then it can be used to create a call route using the trunk-lines of that phone system to connect calls to anywhere in the world. If your system gets hacked, it’s you that gets the phone bill!

This is how we secure your 3CX phone system :

Foxhall Solutions install Draytek routers to connect 3CX systems to SIP Trunk services provided by different ‘Telephony Internet Service Providers’ [TISP’s]. We create a Firewall filter rule that blocks port 5060 enquiries from any Internet address other than our TISP partners (and from valid extensions at remote home or branch offices). This helps make your 3CX system ‘invisible’ to those phishing bot’s and puts an effective barrier in place to stop most attacks. Without filtering, the hackers are still bashing at the door and trying to pick the lock, with the filtering in place, they just can’t find the door!

3CX extensions are created with registration passwords and voicemail PIN numbers that are by default, randomly generated alphanumeric characters. Both can be manually replaced by longer and more complex passwords if necessary. This means any hacking tool must make a lot of registration attempts to get anywhere near a valid registration password – making it easy to block after e.g. 5 failed attempts.

Part of a 3CX install, is to determine which International countries you need to call. Those ISD country codes can be white-listed and allowed, while calls to any non-selected countries will be blocked.

We also determine what local and public network IP addresses that calls will come from, and white-list those. For this reason, we recommend that remote extensions are on broadband services with static Public IP addresses (or connect in via Virtual Private Networks). 3CX will automatically black-list and prevent access from Public Internet IP addresses that meet the criteria set up in the Security module.

Anti-hacking timeouts are configured; We specify the number of failed Authentication attempts allowed, before the offending Internet address is locked out (and specify how long that lock-out is maintained). This module also includes protection against Denial of Service type attacks (excessive packets of data per second), and has timers to ensure lockout after a minimal amount of fraudulent traffic is detected.

It’s also notable that our carrier partners do some basic traffic ‘quantity’ and ‘routing’ monitoring to detect unusual usage. It’s possible to have SIP Trunk channels blocked for outbound calls, based on detection of excessive or unusual usage.

It’s also important to have a comprehensive error message library that can push e-mail alerts out to system administration and support. These messages will provide information if hacking attempts are made, and if calls to unauthorised numbers or countries are attempted from an extension.

In the past, we have seen ‘phantom calls’ arriving on remote extensions due to the phones themselves reacting to ‘fishing’ on port 5060 ‘. Our phone-set partner – Yealink – has removed this problem with a feature to allow us to instruct the phone to react to SIP protocol from your 3CX server only. And, if you are really worried about calls to remote extensions (e.g. in another country), being intercepted and monitored, we can apply Secure SIP (TLS encryption), to and from those extensions.

As a final layer of protection, even though it is not exposed to web-browsing and e-mail, we also install an anti-malware product (e.g. Avast!) on your 3CX server.

Due to their nature, VoIP phone systems must be open to the Internet. However, there are a lot of security facilities that can be built into these systems by responsible software developers. When choosing a new phone system, or, if you’re already using VoIP – you shouldn’t hesitate to ask your system supplier how your phone system is being protected so that you won’t experience outage  – or even ‘outrage!’ due to hackers attacking it and creating an eye-watering call bill! With 3CX, we have you covered …

Contact Foxhall Solutions – 01787 228 402 – to find out more about securing your telephone systems.

Hosted VoIP v’s SIP Trunking … debunking some common myths

With phase-out of UK ISDN services by 2025 now a reality, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), is way past being considered a ‘fringe technology’ with Hosted VoIP and SIP Trunks being the practical and proven successors to that aged, expensive and inflexible telecom’s service.

When you look for a new VoIP system, you’ll see two types of ‘supplier’ proposals;

Hosted VoIP provides phone-sets at your office, with the ‘intelligence’ behind the call connection and routing in a Media Server out on the Internet. Your on-site phones will use your computer network and broadband to get to that Internet Server, and it’s the hosting company who is responsible for routing calls onward to local, national, mobile and International destinations.

The alternative is to have your own on-premises VoIP Server (IP-PBX) based on your computer network at your office (e.g. 3CX). This server can support local phone-sets, as well as analogue, ISDN and SIP Trunk [line] channels in an Internet connection. SIP Trunks are virtual lines carrying phone calls within a broadband Internet connection. The SIP trunks are hosted on an Internet based Media Server, but in this case, the Server simply routes calls to and from your IP-PBX.

You may remember ‘Centrex’ and BT’s ‘Featureline’ services. The idea behind these was to have a phone on each company desk, with a line connecting it back to a centralised exchange that provided the kind of features you’d expect to see from a private switchboard e.g. extension to extension calling and call transfers. We used to sell a lot of PBX systems against this, simply because the typical business scenario (and it’s still the case), is that the number of simultaneous calls you need to connect, is a lot less than the number of extension phones you have on company desks! It’s only in Call Centres that you’ll see a need for a similar number of trunk lines as extensions! For that reason, Centrex systems were expensive to run because customers were renting a lot more lines than they needed to support their calling needs.

So – Here’s some reasons why Hosted VoIP may not be the ‘cheap’ option its presented as:

Hosted VoIP is presented as cheap to set-up, due to the capital cost of phones and network hardware being wrapped-up in the monthly per-extension (“per-seat”) rental. This may appear to be the case; But, in most installs we see that Capital Expenditure over the first 12 months for a Hosted VoIP system is much the same as a project quote for outright purchase of an on-site IP-PBX solution. The big difference between the systems being that in subsequent years, the running costs of the IP-PBX will be orders of magnitude lower due to the low rental cost of SIP Trunk channels, and extremely competitive call tariffs – while with a hosted solution, you just keep on ‘buying’ that system year after year.

Some Hosted VoIP system suppliers will not take your existing computer network into account, and will simply provide phones to plug into existing network switches and use your router to get to the Internet. This is ‘cheap’ because it removes any need to purchase networking hardware … But, when voice and data need to co-exist on a network, there does need to be some basic engineering done to accommodate that! If your network has not been engineered to support VoIP, then you risk poor call quality and loss of customers. This is an important considerations for both Hosted and on-premises VoIP systems. Other hosted VoIP suppliers may set up a second ‘separate’ network supporting your phones, and their Internet access. While this removes voice and data network issues, it also removes a lot of the cost benefits of being able to use a single large-bandwidth broadband service for Internet and telecom’s access, and takes away ‘computer integration’ [CTI] features allowing your phones to work with Company contacts databases and CRM systems.

Hosted VoIP solutions lack the ability to provide Hybrid line systems. Where broadband is not available as a high-speed fibre service, it may be more reliable to have an on-premises system using SIP Trunk services that are backed up by analogue or ISDN lines. If you discover that your broadband is not as reliable as you thought, an IP-PBX may be fitted with ‘Gateways’ for alternative legacy analogue/ISDN line services, but hosted VoIP systems cannot provide this. They also make it expensive to have ‘specialist’ extensions like door-entry units, Reception area extensions and Conference phones that provide a useful service but carry a lot fewer calls per month than e.g. the sales department extensions.

Hosted VoIP platforms provide onward connection to local, national, mobile and International services through carrier partners under service and tariff agreements with the hosting company. Therefore, the call tariffs are set by the hosting company, and you – the end user – will have no ability to choose an alternate carrier to give you better rates to frequently called destinations. IP-PBX servers can terminate multiple SIP Trunk service providers, and the IP-PBX can be configured to ‘Least-Cost-Route’ calls through those SIP Trunk groups based on the number dialled e.g. if you want services from a SIP Trunk provider giving a better tariff to UK mobile numbers, then a SIP Trunk group can be added and calls commencing ’07’ can be dialled out that route. Recently, I was able to order and add a multi-channel SIP Trunk group & DDI numbers to an IP-PBX platform for one of my customers, providing them with a very large reduction in monthly call charges to mobile numbers – in less than one hour!

Hosted VoIP service providers must have longer-term contracts to ensure that they cover their investment in central equipment, and to cover the phones and network equipment they installed for you at the start of your contract. For this reason, you’ll see contract periods for Hosted VoIP that are three to five years, while SIP Trunk service prices are still very attractive with 12 month contracts. Despite all the hype about ‘hosted’ being the cheaper option, this means that in real terms, your Hosted VoIP solution could cost you four to five times as much as an on-premises IP-PBX at the end of that five year contract!

Some popular myths busted! …

On premises IP-PBX systems WILL support remote office and home office extensions just as well as Hosted VoIP. Having an IP-PBX server doesn’t prevent or complicate remote working.

On-premises IP-PBX systems do NOT require on site networking and software management expertise to run. Modern systems run on platforms requiring minimal hardware maintenance with full remote support facilities included – so that when needed, the system vendor can make the changes that the customer requires from anywhere that allows him or her, Internet access. Hosted VoIP support is exactly the same … After all, your supplier is not ‘living’ in the data centre …

Just like hosted systems, it is quite straight-forward to carry out automated back-up of on-premises IP-PBX equipment, and to provide alternate hardware if there is an IP-PBX system failure. In the case of 3CX, we could even use a Windows 10 laptop while server hardware is repaired or replaced.

IP-PBX systems are typically much better integrated with your Local Area [computer] Network, and therefore, deployment of utilities to integrate PC desk-top directory and CRM app’s is much easier. While this feature is low on the list for purchase of a new VoIP system, we often see this as something that users enthusiastically adopt as they get used to the facilities provided by their new phones!

Pre-paid calling plans are VERY rarely of advantage to the customer. Low VoIP tariffs with billing by the second usually provide the most cost-effective call billing for your outbound calls – unless you are an out-bound call centre!

IP-PBX systems are just as scalable as hosted VoIP systems, allowing massive amounts of growth in lines and users without needing to replace central equipment.

And IP-PBX systems are just as secure as Hosted VoIP … In fact, a server supporting hundreds of telephone systems is more of a prize for a hacker to crack, than a single system.

Contact Foxhall Solutions at 01787 228 402 to discuss your best options for a cost-effective upgrade from ISDN services …

BT announces the end of ISDN

BT Group CEO Gavin Patterson has set a date of 2025 to switch off the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) and Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) networks.

It might seem a long way off – but with millions of subscribers to migrate and little further investment in the existing ISDN likely to take place, switching to more sophisticated SIP technology should be a priority for businesses. Session Initiated Protocol (SIP) is a ‘standard’ data communications protocol designed to support the features required to set-up, handle and clear-down Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone calls on Local and Wide Area TCP/IP data networks.

While it sounds like a job for the telecoms department, an industry survey* in 2016, revealed that 52% of IT managers also have responsibility for telecoms. The same survey revealed that 67% of IT managers don’t know what SIP is, despite its status as the next big shift in telecoms.

SIP trunking is a very cost-effective, powerful, scalable and highly flexible solution that helps businesses to streamline their communication costs and resources. Its key features are the removal of physical phone lines – replacing them with ‘virtual line channels’ in an Internet connection, and reducing the restrictions around call capacity and location. The fact that it uses ‘virtual’ phone lines rather than physical wire pairs, means SIP is highly scalable and we’ve seen monthly call and service charges typically 40% to 80% cheaper than traditional ISDN lines. It also makes it easier to increase, and decrease the number of ‘lines’ for your business needs, with very short lead times (< 24 Hrs) – with very low connection fees!

But it’s not just the cost savings that make SIP such an attractive proposition – it also offers a level of flexibility that traditional ISDN simply can’t compete with. As workforces continue to gravitate towards flexible working, the demand for remote office and mobile solutions are only going to increase in the coming years. SIP enables employees who are working remotely to have internal and external calls made to their desk-phone automatically delivered to their smartphone or PC, without incurring any forwarding charges. The same is true if a line is busy, or if an office is hit with an unforeseen event – e.g. a local network failure, severe weather or fire damage. SIP trunking minimises these problems, allowing a business to adopt a very flexible Disaster Recovery strategy, and keep working through most eventualities.

And let’s not underestimate the importance of that. The industry survey* also found that for 63% of respondents, it would take less than two hours of being unable to make or receive calls before a business suffered reputation or financial damage.

Of course, not everyone is a fan of change – and ISDN has undoubtedly been a robust and reliable technology. However, bear in mind that during this phase-out of ISDN, BT’s investment in the technology will also diminish – making it less reliable over time.

So – with the switch to SIP inevitable, what should organisations consider before making the move? As with most things in life, it’s all about selecting the right partner. Businesses should do their research and try to find a provider that has its network, data centre and connectivity all under one roof. It’s only when something goes wrong and customers realise they have account management with one company, connectivity with another and a data centre on the other side of the country that things become a real headache. Before committing to a contract, they should make sure they know where every aspect of the solution is being housed – and try to pick one that has an end-to-end service.

There are six steps to switching to SIP:

  • Ensuring you have capacity [bandwidth] in your Internet connection
  • Setting up the phones and call routes
  • Putting a Disaster Recovery plan/strategy in place
  • Planning system migration & porting existing numbers
  • Testing the set-up and call routing
  • and securing the system from external attack.

Of course, we at Foxhall Solutions can assist with this process and introduce our Internet and Carrier partners to provide a reliable and easily supported telephone system solution. Contact Us now to talk about how we can reduce your costs and increase your capabilities to work with your customers, suppliers and staff.

*Sourced from Neil Armstrong, director of business services, Timico

A 3CX phone system in the palm of your hand! … the 3CX Mini-PC

Recent release of Mini-PC’s has given Foxhall Solutions another interesting and extremely cost-effective way to provide the extensive and fully-featured award-winning 3CX IP-PBX platform, to small businesses.

3CX on a MINIX mini-PC3CX version 15 now supports deployment to a Mini-PC so that we can create a 3CX PBX Appliance on Microsoft Windows 10 (or now, Linux Operating Systems too). Using a Mini-PC you have a low-cost, reliable appliance that can be used in smaller offices where no server is available, or where server resources are already max’d out. These PC’s have no fans or ventilation requirements, and therefore can run 24×7 with no maintenance.

With the price of the IP-PBX central equipment minimised, you can also take advantage of low-cost SIP Trunk services to replace ISDN and analogue lines, reducing on-going service rentals and call costs by huge amounts! (we have seen reductions of 60% to 80% in monthly telecom’s spend).  If you run a Small Business then this has to be the best way to get the best phone system at the best price. Besides its low cost – and 3CX’s low running costs, using a Mini-PC as a 3CX server, offers you several advantages:

  • It will fit anywhere you can give it mains-power and a network connection.
  • It can be connected by WiFi – if cabling issues make that the only alternative!
  • Power consumption is extremely low (approx. 10 Watts).
  • Without fans, this 3CX Server is silent!
  • It’s cool! – Yes it looks great, but I actually mean – this ‘green’ machine won’t heat your office!
  • The Mini-PC won’t suit every need, but its worth a look if you are wanting up to 15 extensions, handling 4 to 8 simultaneous calls.
  • It will allow you to migrate your 3CX system to a more powerful Server platform as your business grows.
  • It’s a 3CX – so it will do all the on- and off-site phone system things that have made 3CX a world-leader in PBX systems.

[Warning – tech’ stuff ahead!] The MINIX PC shown here, runs 64-bit Windows 10, has an Intel Atom quad-core X5-Z8300  processor, 4GB of DDR3L RAM, and 32GB eMMC storage. It can run an HDMI monitor or HDTV with Intel HD Graphics drivers, and has USB2.0 & 3.0 ports for mouse, keyboard and memory expansion. In addition, we can connect it to your network via Gigabit Ethernet, or WiFi and can fully remote-support the server and Yealink phones through its Internet connection … and, another application – the MINIX also makes a great Media-server for your HD TV!

 

When you want to talk about modern, functional & flexible business telecommunications without the old-fashioned prices and contractual ties … Contact Us at Foxhall Solutions.

What to ask before Buying a new Phone System

Selecting the Right Phone System for you …

You have probably heard about VoIP, but might not understand how it applies to a new phone system for your business? Don’t worry, you are not alone! Although it’s a well proven technology (in use since 2004), and the cost benefits of its use are accepted, it is something that you may be nervous about, simply because to you, VoIP is an ‘unknown’.

As with everything in your business, there are a few questions that need answering before you go setting budgets and short-listing systems. Here are seven questions that will help you select the right phone system for your business:

  1. What type of phone system best fits your business?

While there are a lot of VoIP system manufacturers out there to choose from, they may be broadly split into two ‘types’;

You may suit a ‘hosted’ VoIP system, where the phones are at your offices, but the central equipment that makes the connections to the fixed & mobile phone networks, is off somewhere on the Internet, and uses Internet to connect the extensions to the central equipment.

Or – you might be better suited to an on-site system, where some sort of ‘server’ is acting as the controller for your phones, and connecting your calls to a ‘carrier’ who has responsibility for onward connection of your calls to fixed and mobile networks. In this case, the Internet is used to connect your ‘trunk lines’ (SIP Trunk channels).

Have a look at this article to find out more about the two types of VoIP systems …

There are pro’s and con’s for both systems, but in general, we have found that on-site systems have a lower cost of ownership, and provide a lot more flexibility in regard to integration of different carrier services and line types. It is notable that for both types of VoIP, you do need to ensure that the phones are plugged into a computer network that is designed to support voice traffic and give it priority. That means, if it’s done properly, hosted VoIP is not necessarily the cheaper option!

  1. Why are you looking for a new phone system?

Besides the basic fact that you need to make and take phone calls, what are the most important things that you are looking to get from your phone system?

Apart from how they are marketed and how their features are licensed & applied after the initial system sale, most VoIP systems are much the same. For example, it’s useful to know that if you want that voice-mail system to be on other than the receptionist’s extension, you’re not going to have to purchase more hardware and/or software to do so …

This is why it’s important to have some ideas about how you want your incoming calls to be handled by the new system. VoIP phone systems are a lot more flexible than what you might be replacing, so don’t be afraid to ask about things like; voice-mail for all extensions, using e-mail to get voice-mail to people, integrating mobile phones into the system, automatic switching between in and out-of-hours, using Microsoft Outlook contacts as your phone book … etc.

Use your imagination and ask about your ‘nice-to-haves’ – as you may be pleasantly surprised!

  1. Will your phone system integrate with other business systems?

One of those nice benefits you hear about is the ability for a VoIP phone system to integrate with other business systems like your CRM or ERP platform – so you can dial out from a customer record, or screen-pop a record when a call comes in. Some systems offer API’s for integration with certain software, however other phone systems don’t offer this capability.

You should ask your vendor which business systems can integrate off-the-shelf, and which require integration with your new VoIP system when you are being presented with a solution.

  1. Will you be deploying, maintaining and supporting the phone system yourself?

If you have capable IT staff, chances are you will be able to carry out a lot of the deployment and maintenance of the system yourself. You may also want to look at some form of first-line system support training as part of the project package. If you do not have IT staff you might want to consider a Support Agreement with a service level agreement that reflects how critical your phones are to your business.

  1. Who will be providing your voice service?

VoIP systems can be extremely flexible in using the services of different ‘carriers’ to provide you with the lowest call tariffs to different local, national and International fixed and mobile services.

It’s important that you also investigate and short-list VoIP carriers along with your short-list of systems. If you are going to be using VoIP ensure your VoIP provider is compatible with your phone system, and – yes, I’ve seen it happen before – please avoid purchasing your VoIP carrier services before you decide on your phone system. Although ‘SIP’ standards allow connection to almost any carrier, there may be very good reasons to go with one ‘Telephony Internet Service Provider’ for Internet connection and VoIP services, rather than another.

In most cases, VoIP systems use Internet connections to carry phone calls. However, in some instances, you may be restricted to using ‘traditional’ ISDN or analogue lines. This does not mean that you can’t use a VoIP system, but we do have to take this into account as ‘gateways’ will be needed to connect these line types.

  1. What is the total cost of ownership?

You love the fact that VoIP can save you money, but will it? You need to look at the total cost of owning a VoIP phone system.

Buying purely on price will get you into trouble! More reliable, expandable systems do tend to cost more per-user up-front. However, the savings you will see in the long run (from lower monthly service costs, least-cost-routing and better call tariffs), make it worthwhile. As your business evolves you will want to add users to your system, so find out how easily the system can be expanded, (or contracted), changed and upgraded as new features and technologies are released.

  1. What do your users want?

Even if it is last in the list this is very important for you to consider. Each user or employee type has different needs that you need to meet.

Prior to purchasing a system you should ask each of them what they would like to be able to do with their phone – both while they are in the office, and when they are out. This will allow you to align needs with benefits for a particular system. It might be that you need something different for a Reception phone, and/or DECT cordless extensions …

An artist will always paint best when they select their own palette & brushes!

Does that make sense?

If you follow this advice and walk through each of these steps you are going to find other questions you will need answered. But that’s the point – you need to go through the proper steps to make sure that you are selecting the right VoIP phone system.

With our background in mission critical telecommunications for Civil Aviation and the City of London, Foxhall Solutions will use our voice and data expertise to provide you with a new phone system – properly integrated with your existing network – with a load of features and benefits to help your business keep in touch with your staff, suppliers and customers.

Use our Contact Us page, or call us at 01787 228 402 and we’ll show you how we put the Comm’s in Commerce!